During a speech last week at a Washington, D.C. think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Director of Central Intelligence Mike Pompeo shot an excellent political broadside at WikiLeaks:
It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.
I think what Director Pompeo said was intentional, he wanted to put the term out there. He may be to his signaling to his former colleagues in the Congress that maybe it is time to revisit how the United States uses economic sanctions in the cyber realm. Maybe even amend U.S. law to create a new category of activities or entities that should be blocked from physical entry to the U.S. as well as blocked from accessing U.S. financial systems.
Canceling U.S. visas as well as imposing economic sanctions on ‘non-state hostile intelligence services‘ with links to nation-state state actors that seek to undermine, or helped undermined, U.S. national security and foreign policy interests is long overdue. This could’ve been done a while ago.
In fact, a few years ago several Members of Congress tossed around the idea of listing WikiLeaks as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, also known as an FTO. There is ample legal bases for doing so; however, it appears that the process was, ironically, blocked, by the Obama administration together with a few lawyers who worked in the Congress who argued that the current laws would not allow for an entity such as WikiLeaks to be added to the list. Baloney.
There is ample information, just in the public domain, that serve provide more than enough sufficient legal bases to designate Wikileaks and other fellow digital travelers, as an FTO. The move would be politically controversial and Wikileaks defenders will, no doubt, label the move as an attack on free speech or some big state move to silence divergent points of view. Who cares? Those who believe that are wrong.
WikiLeaks never was, and never has been, a defender of free speech or liberty; quite the opposite. They are extremely un-American and, in my book, seeking to undermine U.S. democracy by unlawfully stealing our most sensitive secrets and spreading them on the web for our enemies to exploit.
WikiLeaks has been breaking laws with impunity ever since it was founded and, generally, has done so with the support of state actors such as Russia, Ecuador, and several others. It has aided and abetted traitors and fugitives from U.S. law such as Edward Snowden and US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, two persons who should also be sanctioned and placed on the U.S. OFAC SDN (specially designated nationals) list. The information they have stolen, leaked, or published has aided and abetted terror groups as well other U.S. adversaries. As Director Pompeo said, these and others are the new soul mates of Phil Agee, and other fellow travelers, that seek to do harm to the United States.
The Trump administration could blend U.S. export control laws and regulations, with strong cyber targeting authorities under U.S. law, possibly by amending the FTO definitions to better capture activities undertaken by WikiLeaks to undermine, such as undermining and targeting the U.S. political system or undermine our intelligence agencies. Congressional input may be needed to update some of these laws, but why wait to take action under existing laws and regulations? As Director Pompeo said last week,
WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service and has encouraged its followers to find jobs at the CIA in order to obtain intelligence. In January of this year our intelligence community determined that Russian military intelligence, the GRU, had used WikiLeaks to release data of U.S. victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.
There is a whole lot more that Wikileaks has done to undermine U.S. national security, foreign policy, and other interests. But, they’ve continually been given a free pass. This needs to stop. Deterrence effect completely missing from the U.S. strategy the past eight years.
The Trump administration could start the cyber-related sanctions reform process by designating WikiLeaks as an FTO as well as slap sanctions on anyone or any entity connected to them. While some legal experts argue that current FTO designation criteria may need updating, I think it is unnecessary to capture some of the activities, war, that we know Julian Assange and his team at WikiLeaks has undertaken during the course of many years. The U.S. must also do more to warn leaders of nations such as Ecuador — an ally of Communist Cuba and other anti-American nation-states such as Iran — that harboring terrorists or non-state hostile intelligence services will no longer, as was the case during the Obama years, be ignored.
Finally, for the Congress, Pompeo’s ‘non-state hostile intelligence services‘ term may be the way to remedy the legal ambiguities under current law, or better, expanding exiting authorities. At a minimum, just reviving the Wikileaks FTO designation chatter is a good start. It will begin to set the right tone for how the U.S. may start dealing with these groups. But the FTO designation, or one like it, is long overdue, as is a comprehensive updating of how brick and mortar tools are used to combat cyber terrorism and related crimes.